Bible Study: 4 Pentecost, Proper 9 (A)

July 6, 2014

Nancy J. Hagner, General Theological Seminary

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-15; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart.” (from the Collect for Proper 9, Book of Common Prayer, p. 179)

The readings for July 6 fall two days after our country’s July 4 Independence Day celebrations. As a whole, they are a call to rely on God, “to be devoted to you with our whole heart,” an important reminder that we are utterly dependent upon God’s grace, mercy and power.

Zechariah 9:9-12

Writing after the return from exile, the prophet Zechariah expresses the vision for the restoration of the Kingdom. In the case of today’s passage, the vision is one of God as the Divine Warrior “triumphant and victorious” as he protects Jerusalem from invaders, brings peace and reigns “to the ends of the earth.”

The passage is notable however for verse 9: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This is, of course, the image and text picked up by the gospel writers of Matthew and John when they describe Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. God is paradoxically both humble and the ruler of the world.

Verses 11-12 remind us that God also remembers God’s covenant, and because of that promise will set prisoners free and “restore to you double.”

The image of Jesus riding on the donkey into Jerusalem is so familiar because of the Palm Sunday liturgy. In what ways is God both humble and powerful?

What does the wonderful turn of phrase “O, prisoners of hope” in verse 12 suggest? In what ways are you a prisoner of hope?

Psalm 145:8-15

Coming near the end of the psalter, this hymn of great praise recalls in verse 8 the passage from Exodus 34:6, which proclaims, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Because God is “good to all,” all things in creation – people, trees, animals –are to give thanks and tell of God’s glory.

How do you praise God?

Does patriotism interfere with our praise of God as sovereign? How do we balance love of country and love of God? What does this psalm suggest?

Romans 7:15-25a

This reading contains Paul’s famous explanation of the human conundrum: “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate!” A universal experience for human beings, we cannot “will our way” to righteousness. Even when we know what is right, too often desires overtake us and we behave in ways we would not choose in a perfect world.

But that is Paul’s point; we are not living in a perfect world, but rather in a world filled with sin. Paul asks, “Who will rescue me?” and answers his own question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus is the One who rescues us from sin and “this body of death.” We have no power in ourselves alone. We must rely on God and God’s saving action through Jesus Christ. Nothing else can save us.

Can you relate to Paul’s dilemma?

How does Christ “rescue”?

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus is speaking to a crowd and laments the ways they have not understood both John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ own ministry. They have accused John of “having a demon” because he fasted, and criticized Jesus for eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” The messages of each were lost in the face of criticism about what and with whom they ate! Jesus says that “wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” suggesting that His actions, miracles and healings, which many people had witnessed, were much more important than the petty criticism about who his dinner companions were.

How often do we focus on details of a situation or a person and miss the greater message?

In the last part of today’s gospel, we have Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Thank goodness! In spite of our petty inclinations, and in spite of our blindness to God’s truth so much of the time, Jesus shows us again and again God’s “steadfast love.” He knows that all of us are weary and carrying heavy burdens; this is a wide-open invitation to all of us to “yoke” ourselves to Christ and finally find “rest for [our] souls.” Jesus does not promise that our burdens will be gone, but rather that he will walk next to us, sharing the weight of them as we walk together.

Think about the image of a pair of oxen pulling weight that neither could possibly do on their own. What burdens are you carrying that might be lighter if you were yoked to Christ?

The other meaning of “yoked” is to be like the one you are yoked to, as a student is to a teacher. Jesus says “I am gentle and humble in heart.” In what ways are you gentle and humble as you seek to be more like Jesus?

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